14th October, 2014
THE PEOPLE’S HERALD — Page 7 of Literati Column of the newspaper showing Onis Sampson’s essay, NOLLYWOOD AND THE POLEMICS OF VALUE[/caption]
[Big thanks to Magnus Abraham-Dukuma, Esq. for making the publication of this essay, possible. Magnus, a young Nigerian Lawyer, and writer of many parts works and lives in Port Harcourt. He also writes poetry, literary reviews, and lots more. Some of his poems have been featured on anthologies by Society of Young Nigerian Writers. He maintains the Literati Column of The Herald newspaper, which has seen the review of works of Chimamanda Adichie of Nigeria, Kofi Awoonor of Ghana, Chimeka Garricks of Nigeria, Onis Sampson of Nigeria etc.]
There is no gainsaying the fact that Nollywood sits at the pedestal of the African movie industry. With an impact across the vast spectrum of the continent and parts of the world, its glamour mesmerizes even non-English speaking audiences, the records quite gratifying and fulfilling. In a 2005-2006 global survey carried out by the Institute of Statistics under the auspices of UNESCO, results showed that Bollywood (of India) produced over 1091 films, Nollywood produced 872 films and Hollywood produced 485 films during said period. It made Nigerians realise for the first time the gradual in-road success stories Nollywood was making on the international scene.
And like its counterparts the world over, Nollywood has embraced the culture of film festivals. There are many of such festivals today, to wit, the Eko International, Zuma Film Festival, iREP, AFRIFF and so on. Also, the Box Office sales ranking system seems to be gaining sway in the country in terms of accuracy of statistics and appreciation of same. This shows that cinema culture is gaining an upswing in the country. While cinema culture in Nigeria is not as pronounced in countries like the United States of America, India and some Western climes, it is worthy of note stating that there is considerable growth in cinema culture in the country in recent times. For instance in the month of August of 2014, the movie adaptation of Adichie’s “Half of a Yellow Sun” was reported to have set a new first weekend box office record in Nigeria. It was said to have grossed N10Million.
In statistics provided in the Guardian Newspaper of 10th of April, 2014 in an article by Enjoli Liston, the Nigerian film industry’s worth was put at N853.9billion (US$5.1billion) as at 2014.
However, the journey into limelight was not an easy one for the industry practitioners. To put it this way: it is on record that Nollywood at inception was a self-sufficient industry made up of business mavericks who went into movie production with a passion for what they did even when the future of the industry was uncertain and bleak and in the midst of nonchalant response of the government to its challenges at inception. The experiences of Nigeria’s first filmmakers in the 1960s such as Ola Balogun and Hubert Ogunde readily illustrates this point. They had a vision and pursued after it. Even down the years till the recent past few years when the situation changed, government support for the industry was inconceivable and far. It was the worldwide acclaim of the Nigerian movie industry that made the government realize the great things going on in the industry. It was more of a portrayal of the age long aphorism, “A prophet is not honoured in his home town.” But this worldwide acclaim changed all that. And so in 2010, the Goodluck-led administration pledged a $200million loan fund for developing and financing film projects in the country. And for us as a people, such achievement has made us to be proud of our heritage.
It has been contended in many circles of learning and given scientific proof on a theoretical level that humans are malleable by the power of autosuggestion over time; that engaging repeatedly in a particular thing, whether vocation, hobby and so on, brings about perfection and reshaping of mentality; and that these are things that come to be in a measure of time. These are quite rational and correct statements of fact. It must be stated admittedly that this repetition paid off in the wake of the wide acclaim of Nollywood globally, beginning from the late 1990’s. To this end, not forgetting the prodigious line-up of movies that the industry has produced (over 2000 movies are produced by Nollywood every year: Black Enterprise), these critics have been categorical in pointing out some areas where Nollywood may not have gotten it right.
These areas can be seen as negative aspects of the movie industry under consideration. To an extent, the negative sides to this achievement may not have been contemplated for long by most of our people, and the movie practitioners. Again, despite this huge and critical acclaim of the industry, there are so many problems of quality still facing it. For instance, it is generally said that the industry emphasizes quantity at the expense of quality. The large amount of movies produced per week by various movie houses within a very short period of time confirms this. And that is where some critics come in with the classical argument from a sociological standpoint to refute this third largest movie industry in the world on grounds of its content and influence in the lives of the average Nigerian viewer and the continent at large. Certain problems have been identified, to wit:
Poorly written scripts,
Unnecessary emphasis on fetish and voodoo themes,
A filmography still at its infancy,
Repetition of scenes, theme and cast,
Ethnocentrism and personality defacement of viewers, to state the list of the pitiable pile-up.
However, the truth must be told without wincing, without extensions of diplomatic phrases, irrespective of whose ox is gored. The prime goal is going beyond the clarion call for the renaissance of Nollywood to the practical steps that must be taken with immediate effect in birthing this renaissance.
In the midst of these lofty achievements are glaring problems within same industry. Some of these problems are organic in nature. They have caused heated debates amongst our people. Theatre practitioners, veterans in the industry and concerned viewers have expressed the need for urgent tackling of these problems. They have opened up the morphological structure of the industry, unveiled so many forms of quackery and shown how most viewers have been put and left in ambivalence.
Beyond morphology into functionality is where the polemics of value comes. These things can be admitted and can be readily confirmed amongst our people who patronize the movies.
One of the problems, as pointed out in the introduction to this piece is the problem of poorly written scripts. Most of these scripts lack a good dialogue, proper characterization, have less regard for portraying core societal ills, and lack depth of information for transforming our people in an Information Age. Some actors in the industry have been quoted saying they do not need scripts for their dialogue as they are very good in extemporaneous display of their craft. Such ignorant talk is most deplorable. Indeed it smacks of quackery. There are several Nollywood movies where the subject matter at hand is deserving of impeccable English yet is played out by characters who either dictate to the Director what their lines should be or is played out by characters incapable of fitting into the complexity of the dialogue and the demands of quality craft. Quite debilitating in portrayal of scripts is the inundation of witch-craft scenes, voodoo or black magic scenes in our movies. These are movies so common in the average Nigerian home. Both adults and children are exposed to these movies. Children below legal age or a prescribed age under the Viewers Discretion statement of some of these movies also engage in watching these movies. Sometimes such viewing is done in the presence of parents who are too placid on moral issues, thus giving tacit approval to their children who sit before their television screens watching the movies alongside. The effect is a long term “induction” into “chambers of mundane and lax thinking.” The process can be likened to brainwashing in a sense. In the long run, values are compromised because those exposed to these kinds of movies begin to think in ways portrayed in such movies.
Another terrible side of the script dysfunction is the inappropriate titling of movies. Usually the cause of this has been the movie producers who are bent on making quick returns. This way, they use titles that have a commercial edge to it even when there is no nexus between the movies and such titles. Another aspect of this title issue is a situation where a movie is hurriedly produced to cash-in on prevailing and widespread ignorance by setting an on-going societal malady into film. A quintessence of this is the recent movie, “Ebola” which by its name is clear as to nature of societal malady it addresses. Movies like this sometimes are made ready in a week or less.
Filmography in Nollywood on a general scale is underdeveloped. So many factors come into play here. A big chunk of this is the poor technological gadgets at the disposal of the technical crew in charge of video coverage, studio editing, and limited number of professionals with great skills in using modern film gadgets and equipment. At the nucleus of these factors is the problem of low budget. Notwithstanding this challenge, there are some notable figures who hone their skills expertly in continuous production of quality videos and cinema content. One of such figures is the veteran producer, Tunde Kelani, whose versatility cuts across cinematography, photography, directing, scriptwriting and filmmaking.
Another common problem in the industry is the flagrant repetition of scenes, theme and cast. The theme of rituals and fetish over-indulgence is a very common one. This seems to be the greatest undoing of the industry and yet one of its unique selling points. It is quite ironic that while this factor has been capitalised on by many producers in the industry to make quick profits due to the high patronage of these movies by viewers, it is yet a serious threat to the image of the industry because of the poor qualities and stale re-enactments inherent in such voodoo practices. These practices give a wrong representation of the various cultures dealt with in the movies. The aftermath is a grand scale misinterpretation of our cultural identities and backgrounds. To put it poignantly, the theme of ritual killing is replete in Nollywood movies. It is pertinent clarifying this depiction which is gradually reaching a degree of conundrum: ritual killing does not constitute a part of our cultures. While it is true that in pre-colonial times some African tribes engaged in the act, it was merely a misnomer or an excess of unbridled power in the hands of despot tribal rulers. More so, present day events in parts of the world still bear such, so African tribes cannot be wholly ascribed such repugnance even by its own.
An aspect of the foregoing that has been highly frowned at is the movie depiction of spiritual battle between “African pagan forces” on the one hand and Western religious beliefs, usually Christianity on the other hand. While some of these critics have taken no sides with any of the two religious forces at war, they have condemned the over-indulgence in it. In virtually all instances, the resolution of conflicts in these movies has always been in favour of the Western religious beliefs. It is disturbing that majority of our movie producers do not see the racist implications of their methodologies. It is only an extension of the ‘colomentasyn’ syndrome. This has made so many African literary scholars to question the rationale behind such sordid rendering of African cultural beliefs. Again it reminds of the Pre-Discovery era of African poetry before the 1960s when much of the verse and poetry of African writers who wrote in English was apish and imitative in content and form, drawing sustenance from European influences. These were periods of poets like Michael Dei-Anang, Gladys Casely-Hayford and so on who wrote verses structured on 18th Century European verse forms with less regard for the oral tradition and cultural richness of their indigenous groups.
The emphasis on voodoo themes downplays the function of educating viewers on scientific and artistic realities of the global village. A comparative look at some Hollywood movies will reveal several movies that motivate the viewers to strive for more in knowledge acquisition gleaned from the dense plot, richness of dialogue, seriousness of conflicts and references to science, art, technology etc. Movies like this, challenge the viewers to go the extra mile in self-improvement thereby occasioning constant mental development. However, making a similar study of Nollywood reveals the reverse. It is even paradoxical that despite the low state of education in the country and high level of illiteracy, the movie practitioners who have capacity to make their own contribution by educating our children, youths and older generations are rather cashing in on this illiteracy by mass producing hackneyed and stale movies with no depth nor root into the core of our nationhood. Such complacence cannot be excused by faulting governmental inefficiencies for long.
Building a healthy and educated society is the core task of every one, individuals, private sector and public sector alike. What more do we say about the preponderance of grammatical deficiencies amongst a large percentage of Nigerian graduates! A meticulous study of some of the movies produced in the industry will reveal similar challenge, sometimes amongst actors who are not professional theatre practitioners. This brings to mind the aphorism, the blind cannot lead the blind. Nonetheless, we can lean on this solace, still of an aphoristic context, the one-eyed man is a god in the land of the blind. So at least, the meaning is not so shrouded in thick mist.
It is important making some recommendations and much more important following them up with concerted effort. Previous suggestions have been made such as censorship, tackling piracy, etc. The word censorship is wide. There could be censoring of movie practitioners’ qualifications, or standard of movies covering video quality, sound production, and several other areas. For sure, there is a censorship body in the country, the National Films and Video Censors Board (NFVCB). While the board has been working assiduously, there is still more that needs to be done.
Our extant laws on intellectual property rights protection must be of paramount importance. Rights violators must be diligently prosecuted in the courts without the unnecessary clogs and delay tactics of litigation process. Cases of this nature should be fast-tracked. Merely granting of Anton Pillar Injunctions in the Federal High Court upon application for same by aggrieved applicants has been shown to yield little or no results in Nigeria because the legal framework for enforcement of the law is weak and has been highly compromised.
It will be myopic thinking not to see piracy, bootlegging and its various forms as one of the root causes of poor and low quality movies. In fact the Alaba market in Lagos, notorious for being the centre for piracy of all kinds, is said to generate millions of Naira on daily basis from pirated works. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) posts on its website, http://www.copyright.gov.ng , periodic reports of confiscations it makes in Alaba and other parts of the country where piracy is on the rise. The question then is, in the midst of these huge losses suffered by the movie producer, what does he make in order to recoup for subsequent investments?
Common sense will reveal that in an ideal situation where piracy is not prevalent, the movie producers can readily reinvest their enormous profits in procuring advanced and latest movie production equipment, tools and personnel.
Furthermore, there is need for collaboration between writers of works of literature and movie practitioners in so many areas of the moviemaking process. Writers of fiction can have their works adapted for the screen. The writers can be made a part of the adaptation process so they can make quality inputs in such movies. More so, theatre practitioners should play significant roles in this area. This is an area where their expertise will be highly needed. There should be more emphasis on good locale, costume, action and a host of other factors that will be considered by the parties to this collaboration.
Nollywood is the one movie industry that is gradually becoming number one globally in all ramifications. The right steps must be taken in pursuit of this time-bound venture. First things first, big changes are inevitable.
ABOUT THE WRITER: ONIS SAMPSON is a young Nigerian Lawyer, award-winning essayist and author living in the city of Port-Harcourt. He is the author of “EYES OF PASSION,” a collection of short stories published on Amazon. In August 2013 he won The McPherson University Essay Competition for his essay, “A Portrait: The Successful, Happy and Fulfilled me.” His writing interest covers poetry, drama, novel writing, literary critique, poetics and essays. He works and lives in Port-Harcourt.
His blog: http://www.onisreviewz.wordpress.com